Plaintiffs Ramon and Jeffrey Cuevas were employees of Defendant Wentworth Property Management Corporation (“Wentworth”). In their lawsuit against Wentworth, Plaintiffs claim that they were subject to race-based discrimination, a hostile work environment and retaliation in violation of the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination. Among the discriminatory comments alleged in the Complaint were references to Plaintiffs as “Chihuahuas,” “Latin Lovers,” and “the Rico Suave brothers.” Plaintiffs further alleged that, within one month of complaints to management about the discriminatory misconduct, both brothers were terminated.
At trial, Plaintiffs testified in detail about nine-months of racial harassment and hostility in the workplace. Specifically, Ramon Cuevas testified about how the harassment and hostility made him feel “chopped down day by day, month by month,” “despondent,” “exhausted,” and “helpless.” Jeffrey described how the company’s degrading conduct toward him affected his “psyche” and ruined his “self confidence.” At the conclusion of the trial, the jury awarded Plaintiffs $2.5 million in damages, including $800,000 in emotional distress damages to Ramon and $600,000 in emotional distress damages to Jeffrey. Following the trial, the trial court denied Wentworth’s motion for a remittitur of the emotional distress damages (i.e., a request for the court to reduce the amount of emotional distress damages to Plaintiffs). Defendants appealed, and the Appellate Division affirmed Plaintiffs’ emotional distress damages award. The Defendants then filed a petition for certification (which was granted by the Supreme Court) on the issue of whether the trial court erred in denying Wentworth’s request for a remittitur.
In reviewing the trial court’s decision, the Supreme Court upheld the trial court’s denial of the motion for a remittitur and upheld the emotional distress damages awards. In so doing, the Court reaffirmed that expert testimony is not required to support an award of emotional distress damages, and found that the awards were not so “wide of the mark,” so “pervaded by a sense of wrongness,” so “manifestly unjust to sustain,” that they “shock the judicial conscience.” This is a significant win for plaintiffs in actions alleging violations under the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination.
If you have suffered from workplace discrimination, harassment, or retaliation, and/or have any questions about the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination, please contact the Law Office of Frank A. Custode, LLC.